Reaching for a new sense of connection? The sociality of nonreligion in Europe in Europe

Herbert, David and Bullock, Josh (2019) Reaching for a new sense of connection? The sociality of nonreligion in Europe in Europe. In: Religion – Continuations and Disruptions: 17th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions; 25 - 29 Jun 2019, Tartu, Estonia. (Unpublished)


Surveys shows that “unbelievers” have a distinctive profile compared to the general population on several indicators related to sociality, collective identity and cultural transmission. For example, they tend to rank family as less important and to identify less with people for whom tradition is important; but are more likely to rate friendship as very important. This evidence suggests a distinctive, less (or differently) embedded, sociality, and lower social conformity, compared to “believers”. These findings kickstarted our Templeton funded Understanding Unbelief project ‘Reaching for a New Sense of Connection’ which contributes to mapping the diversity of Generation Y (Millennials) unbelief in Northern and Central Europe. We take a mixed method approach, drawing from the European Values Study, 70 semi-structured interviews across 25 European cities/towns, and a social media network analysis across six countries (UK, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Norway, and Romania). These countries offer diverse (non-) religious backgrounds including post-Communist societies, (eastern Germany, Poland, Romania), environments with strong pressures to religious conformity, (both in the majority culture and minority subcultures); in strong welfare state environments and in less secure contexts; in mixed Christian heritage environments, and with different majority religious heritages (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox). Key questions we will address in our presentation include: is there evidence of organised forms of nonreligious identification emerging across Europe? How and what extent are nonreligious identities shaped by religious cultures, ethno-nationalist movements and populism across Europe? In analysing our data, we will bring new theoretical perspectives to the study of unbelief and the sociality of the nonreligious, beginning by using Herbert’s theory of religious publicisation (2011), asking whether a hypothesis derived from it – that the form and presence of public religion is substantially shaped by changes in media culture – also applies to nonreligion.

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